Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Account People Are Responsible For Solving Problems With Their Clients

The one thing that I hear from every agency person who has gone to the corporate side is that they finally understand what clients do, how they spend their time and the priorities that take them away from agencies. And they all also say that their client side experience puts the issues that agency people have into complete perspective. (I actually hear the same thing from clients who go to agencies – before joining an agency they had no idea how complicated the relationship is).

As I have previously written, agencies don’t like to hire clients (and vice versa).  It is a terrible mistake because every agency could use the perspective which client-side experience can bring.
There are many consultants and consulting companies who have made a fine living by lecturing senior agency management on the issue of agency-client relations and how to get along better, but they never seem to actually resolve the problem.  The reason they cannot solve this issue is because disliking and distrust of clients are endemic to the business on both sides.

Clients resent agencies pushing for their work; clients don’t think agencies understand their business.  Clients think their agencies are too expensive, especially when it comes to production. But there are other areas as well.  Agencies can’t understand why they don’t get better direction; agencies aren’t allowed to know their clients’ business. Corporate procurement has squeezed agencies to the point where the relationship is constantly strained and account people are merely suppliers, not partners.

A lot of the enmity is internally generated on both sides of the business.  Dealing with each other can be frustrating.  Nevertheless, I put responsibility for handling this squarely in the hands of account people. Good account people should learn enough about their clients to not only know about the client’s business, but to understand the ins and outs of the client’s culture in order to put their business in perspective and explain to their agencies what has happened and why it occurred.

This means that account people need to be well enough trained nd familiar enough with their clients to know what will sell and not sell; by no means should any account person prevent good, on-strategy creative from being presented. And once bought by the client, their job is to keep it sold.  

Their job is to keep creative, media and planners enthusiastic and excited.

When I was a senior account person, I would not allow the account people to badmouth their clients to others in the agency. I told them that they could come in to my office and bitch and moan to me all they wanted, but when they discussed their client issues with others in the agency they only succeed in destroying enthusiasm for working on the account.  Some account people mistakenly believe that by speaking ill of their clients that they will strengthen and build their relationships with others in the agency – especially creative people.  Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

In today’s environment, agencies do not spend enough time at the client.  When ad agencies don’t spend enough social and getting-to-know-you time with their clients, they cannot learn the subtleties and nuances of their client’s jobs and their businesses.  Clients are partially to blame for this issue because their procurement people have cut agency compensation to the bone which discourages this kind of quality time. Nevertheless, learning the client’s business is the essential job of account people so that information can be translated back to the rest of the agency. 

Of course, there are some bad clients, but the only way that agencies can handle them is by trying to understand what makes them bad and attempting to deal with the issues in a positive way.  Mostly, I found that bad clients are clients agencies don’t spend enough time with.

Even good clients occasionally need to be hand-held.  It is part of the job.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Adventures In Advertising: The Worst Client, Ever

I hear stories all the time about bad clients:  clients who are abusive, clients who call unnecessary meetings at 4pm on a Friday, clients who won’t buy the work.  But this is a story about a client who went way beyond all bounds.

I was a young account executive and was put on a new account at my agency.  The account was one of the major American watch brands and it was among the first accounts that I handled.  I was about twenty-four years old. I was very excited about the assignment - until I got to know the client.

It turned out that my client, the advertising director, was rough and crude. The first hint that this was going to be a difficult client was about two weeks after we started.  The ad director cursed at me and insulted me because a messenger was delayed (no emails or faxes for documents then).  Virtually every day, for no good reason, I was cursed at, insulted and told I was stupid and that my agency sucked.  It was beyond unpleasant.

I went to my boss, the head of account management, and his advice was to not let it bother me and not to lose my cool. But it turned out that it was not just this particular ad director, the nastiness pervaded the watch company from the top down.

Sometime later, there was a big meeting and the president of the client company disagreed with something the president of my agency said.  Out of the client’s mouth came a torrent of insults and curses the likes of which I never again heard in business.  Truth is, it happened because the president of the agency offered an opinion.  This barrage of insults was basically unprovoked, but it was too long ago for me to remember what or why.

At that point, the agency made a very good decision:  do the best we could and look for another watch account with more genteel people.

In the meantime, there was an upcoming sales meeting at the Dellwood Country Club in Rockland County and I was asked to present the new advertising.  I was about 24 years old and had never done that before.  I was very nervous to present to their sales force.  The presentation was to take place about 4pm.

At one o’clock there was an informal meeting among the agency and client executives to discuss the agency portion of the presentation. The meeting was so informal that those in attendance were just standing around.  I don’t remember what was being discussed, but I offered an opinion. Whatever I said seemed to be agreed upon by others who were in the room. The client president was either angry or surprised that a kid should have an opinion and a good one at that.  What happened next I can still see in my mind, as clearly as if it were yesterday.  To this day, I don’t know what motivated this man, but he was clearly surprised or angry at me. He looked at me and said, “If you are so smart, what is the difference between a chronograph and a chronometer?”  I knew the answer and gave it to him.  (A chronograph is a stopwatch and a chronometer is a very well calibrated, accurate timepiece.)
This obnoxious client was shocked that I knew the answer.  So shocked and excited that he actually went to punch me. I saw him make a fist, cock his arm and let go.  I pulled back and in doing so, I lost my balance and his blow hit me on the shoulder.  I did fall.  I am not sure if he knocked me down or if I fell while ducking his punch.  It was very surreal because I don’t think that anyone knew what to do or say. The agency president and client just kept on talking as if nothing had happened.  I was just lying on the floor. No kidding.  I was lying on the floor and they proceeded as if nothing had happened.

So I got myself up, walked out of the room and went home, which was about 25 minutes away in Westchester.

When I got home the phone was ringing.  It was the agency president.  He told me either to get back and make the presentation or I would be fired.  I actually told him that I would only come back if the client apologized when I returned.

The client half-heartedly apologized. I made the presentation.  I also resigned.

So when I hear stories about rough clients, I also smile to myself knowing what a truly bad client is all about.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Things You Should Never Say On An Interview

Each year I work with people who should have gotten jobs they wanted but blew the interview by saying things which seem okay, but are actually turn-offs to the interviewer. Here is a short list; don’t take the words literally, but think about the communication when these things are said.

“I am not actually looking”
Then what are you doing there?  There are times to be and play cool; an interview is not one of them. A much better way of saying this is, “I am always interested to find out about opportunities which might benefit my growth or career….”

 “I came for information”
No you didn’t.  You came to find out if there is possibly a job and if you can meet people. I have said it many times: there is no such thing as an informational interview.  If you are liked, there is a good chance of being hired, either immediately or in the future.  Talking about getting information actually communicates disinterest: you didn’t come for information, you came to try to get a job.  College graduates go on “informational” interviews, but experienced executives do not. Better to say, “I have always been interested in this company and I came here to see what might be available either now or in the near future.”

“In my next job here is what I want...”
Don’t set up obstacles for yourself.  The whole process is about getting the information you need in order to make a decision. Telling companies what you want and don’t want early in the process can kill your candidacy.  In fact, some candidates start to negotiate way too early by telling interviewers what they will or will not do or by saying what they want or don’t want before fully interviewing. The time to negotiate is when you have an offer, not before.  When a poor interviewer hears about a candidate’s demands and those things are not in the job specs/description, a candidate can be eliminated as “inappropriate” when they are actually good for the job and the job is good for them.

“I have other offers pending”
By telling a prospective employer this you sound indifferent to them and you communicate that money may be the determining factor of your decision.  Every client wants to feel like they are the only company you are talking to. On the other hand, if you are talking to multiple companies, don’t communicate that you are in love when you are not.  No company (or recruiter) likes to be blind-sided, so at some point in the interview process, when it comes up naturally, you should let them know that you are talking to others.

“So, how did I do?” or some variation thereof
Never put your interviewer on the spot.  Even if they like you a lot, it is very aggressive and puts the interviewer on the defensive.  It could kill your candidacy, so why risk it?  If you are trying to elicit feedback, tell the interviewer you enjoyed the meeting and see if you can provoke a response. And if you are there through a recruiter, that is his or her job.

 “ I would happily take a cut in salary or title to work here”
No matter how you say it, it comes across as desperate, especially if you are out of work. I have written so many times that you should never take a cut in title.  There are times to take a cut in salary, but why offer it?  All you need to say at the end of the interview is, “I love the agency and the job and would like to keep talking.”

“I’ll try”
My pet peeve.  When asked to do a follow up (make a call, set up a meeting, send samples, etc.)  Saying I’ll try is actually setting up an excuse to be late or for not doing it at all.  If you are going to do something, you simply say. “Sure”. Only when there is a real chance you might not be able to do it (client conflict, other deadlines, etc.) does the word “try” get used But even then only with an explanation.  Using “try” is the sign of a wishy-washy and indecisive executive.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ten Reasons Why I Love Recruiting

More than thirty years ago, when I told my friends that I was going to be an advertising recruiter, there was a universally positive response.  People said it was a natural evolution of my career in advertising.  And they were right.  

This month marks a full year since I was hit by a taxi.

During the many months I was in the hospital, I had the opportunity to take stock and think about the business and my role in it.  It was a perfect time to determine if I wanted to stay or go. Now, a year later, I thought It a great time to let people know how I feel about the business and what I do.

My decision was easy.  Indeed, I love both advertising and recruiting.

Here are my ten reasons.

        I love helping people
I have always been interested in careers and helping people develop their careers. That is one of the great joys of what I do.  Over 30 years, I have personally placed well over 1,000 executives. There are literally dozens of people who I have placed as juniors or gave advice to when they were young, who are now successful senior executives (Many of them at the very same places I put them in years ago).  There are hundreds of others who I helped along their way; their success is thrilling to me.

I love the chase
I love solving puzzles.  And, when clients give me complete information about their issues and problems, finding the right people for them is like solving a puzzle.  It makes me feel great to know that I have helped a client solve a problem.. There are many recruiters who I call "placers" – they just want to earn money and don’t give a damn about truly finding the right person. For me, finding the right person is a challenge and a joy.

I love partnering with clients
When I was in advertising, I was a very good account person.  I still am.  When clients work with me, I can be a very effective partner.  When clients take me into their confidence and allow me to be a part of their organization, I am not only turned on, but I also become a more effective recruiter.  The more information I have, the better I can do for them.

I love meeting people
I am gregarious and outgoing by nature.  An effective recruiter must have these attributes.  I am pleased that I can call so many people friends, both candidates and clients.  I am still in touch with many people I met over the past 30 years.  Some I have actually neve placed, but they have become friends.

I love the advertising business
I grew up in an advertising family.  It is in my blood.  Recruiting has allowed me to step back but still remain in the business.  I am a yenta at heart.  I revel in following the business and knowing what is going on.

I am a student of advertising
I love hearing advertising people tell their stories.  For those who read this blog regularly, you know I collect them.  Despite all the changes in the last few years, it is still an exciting and interesting business.  I love following it, reading the trade press and talking “shop” with friends.  I pretty much know what is happening at most agencies. Through interviewing, I have learned what works and what fails and I relish knowledge. 

I love the people in advertising
Advertising people are inherently creative and interesting.  The best of them enjoy life and discovery. It is true that people are an ad agency’s only asset. Over the years I have heard stories about everyone; I know who is liked and who is disliked, I know who is successful and why.  And even the one’s with negative reputations, I like them, too.  Often they can be successfully placed – it is a matter of matching personalities and attributes with an agencies goals and needs.

I love finding people who are out of the box
Too many companies insist on putting square pegs in square holes.  And while I am very good at doing that, I take great pride in finding successful executives with unusual backgrounds. (e.g. the number of non-package goods people who I have placed in highly strategic CPG accounts)  Of course it requires that I have a client willing to trust and listen to me.  Many of these people have gone on to build wonderful advertising careers. That pleases me to no end..

I would have made a good shrink
A great deal of what a good recruiter does is to listen to candidates and understand what motivates them and what underlies their successes and failures.  Sometimes hearing their stories is heart breaking, while other times it ca be exhilirating. In either case, I am a good listener and a very good dispenser of advice.  And by listening carefully, I can also make creative placements, as stated.above.

Recruiting is fun
I love meeting people, helping them to grow and develop, I love dispensing valuable advice.
I look forward to getting up in the morning and getting on the computer.  In the days before cell phones, I still remember calling clients and candidates from outdoor pay phones (remember them?) during blizzards and rainstorms.  It was exhilarating and despite that I can now do it from my mobile indoors, it still is highly satisfying and a lot dryer.

Creative Commons License